“Every day you call and say, ‘We don’t have anybody to help us,’ ” And again it would be the same thing. Every single day being jerked around and by the end of the day nobody ever came to help us.”–Ashley Moore, ICU Nurse, Walnut Creek, CA, a Kaiser Permanente Hospital.
There is a great NPR News Investigation series by reporter Daniel Zwerdling going on called: “Hospitals Fail to Protect Nursing Staff From Becoming Patients”. Please listen and/or read and share! Direct care nurses and nurses’ assistants will feel validated and hopeful while consumers who understand this issue will raise awareness and together we can co-create positive change.
- According to surveys by the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there are more than 35,000 back and other injuries among nursing employees every year, severe enough that they have to miss work.
If you work or have worked as a direct care nurse or nurses’ assistant you already know how dangerous the physical work is and how such dangers are exacerbated by insufficient staffing, inaccessible equipment, and patient populations that are increasing in weight and acuity. You no doubt know the feeling of asking for help, even yelling for it when no one is available. It is urgent. You know what to do. You know how to do it. But you don’t have the resources to do it right! It is an awful feeling that sadly most nurses can relate to.
- In terms of sheer number of these injuries, BLS data show that nursing assistants are injured more than any other occupation, followed by warehouse workers, truckers, stock clerks and registered nurses.
A few months ago I was standing in a patient’s door yelling for help. The patient, a 300 lb or more woman with dementia was trying to get up out of bed. She needed two people to assist her. I was also trying to keep my eyes on the dining area where a dozen or so other patients with dementia were at various stages of eating dinner. I could hear a chair alarm going off and knew one of our unsteady residents was getting up and possibly trying to walk. “I need help now!” I yelled for the 3rd time and really loudly.
Neither I nor a patient was injured that night but I have been injured in the course of providing care and so have many of my professional and paraprofessional colleagues. And honestly, it is one of the reasons I don’t work for that organization any more.
Sometimes staff are even blamed for getting injured. “Why didn’t you get help? Why didn’t you get the lift?” But the truth is that after asking for help a few times when no one comes, or trying to find the lift which may take you traveling throughout the facility, you get the message that help and equipment are not available when you need it and try to figure out a way to get the most urgent things done as safely as possible. Repositioning, transferring, or walking patients may sound like quick and easy tasks, but in reality require time, skill, equipment, training and enough staff then and there.
- The number one reason why nursing employees get these injuries is by doing their everyday jobs of moving and lifting patients.
On one hand work-related injuries among nursing staff is isn’t news. Nurses have been asking for safer staffing for as long as I can remember and there is plenty of evidence about the problem. But it has been invisible to patients, families, and consumers. I can’t say whether leaders know about the problem or not, but they should, shouldn’t they?
- “Too many hospital administrators see nursing staff as second-class citizens,” says Suzanne Gordon, author of Nursing Against the Odds. “Historically, hospital administrators have viewed nurses as a disposable labor force.”
So that’s why I give a hearty “thank you” to the Walnut Creek Medical Center in CA Nurses (a Kaiser Permanente Hospital), other nurses who responded to the investigation, and NPR for bringing this issue into the public eye. Awareness about such a complex issue doesn’t solve the problem, but is an extremely important step that leads to solutions like:
- Advocating for adequate staff and equipment
- Being informed about and supporting laws about protecting staff from injuries
- Help when possible and safe
- Hold leaders accountable for ensuring adequate staffing
- Talk with nurses and nurses’ assistants about their experiences and concerns
- Choosing facilities that are adequately staffed
- Being patient when waiting for help
What’s your experience as a nurse, nurses’ assistant, physician, administrator, or consumer/patient? What ideas do you have for solutions?
Please help spread the word about this NPR series so consumers, physicians, and administrators will take the steps necessary to protect staff from injuries. Taking care of nursing and nurse assistant staff IS taking of patients!